Born in Tokyo, Japan, award-winning artist Satoco Yamamoto grew up in a family where art was both an occupation and a hobby. Sato’s life and career changed completely in 2013 when she moved to New York, where she embraced art as a full-time profession by learning printmaking and papermaking techniques.
Sato’s artwork strives to capture universal emotions and memories by combining processes such as woodblock, monotype, etching, and silkscreen. Her style invokes the tradition of Ukiyo-e, a genre that flourished in Japan between the 17th and 19th centuries that literally translates to “pictures of the floating world”.
How did you discover your passion for papermaking and printmaking?
A lot changed for me when I moved from Tokyo. I used to be socially awkward and would shut down when I had to speak to people. Now that I’m a full-time contemporary artist based in NYC, art has become my language; my studio is one of my favorite places here because I can express myself through art without any explanation. I especially enjoy the setting up process that’s necessary when printmaking and papermaking. I feel like I’m sparkling from the inside out.
Your pieces range from using bright, vivid colors to darker tones. How do you choose the color palette of your works?
Usually, a printmaker uses dark colored ink on etching. I also follow and incorporate traditional methods in my art, but, when I combine etching with papermaking technique, I try to create colorful works. Although etching is a traditional fine art, for my printmaking I try to find new methods. That is why I’m using pink, green, or black pigments.
You say that your artworks “connect people with each other through shared feelings”. Can you expand on that a bit more?
Discussing nationality is quite common in New York as it’s one of the most important multicultural cities in the world. I believe that the best way to connect with people across nationalities is by expressing each other’s feelings. My first drawing teacher taught me that drawing “eyes” on glass, on a notebook, or on a hat will make people stop to see those eyes. This way, one can share feelings through an object. I believe that when we see each other’s eyes, we’re not able to ignore our own feelings. One of my dreams is to connect people from all over the world through my art. I would love to hear someone say, “I don’t know much about Japan, but I love Satoco Yamamoto’s artwork.”
What are your artistic influences?
One of my ancestors, Hirai Seijirō, was the first Japanese to receive an education in an American school. (If you check Wikipedia, his birthday is November 13th and I have the same birthday!) Before working as a railway engineer in Japan, he worked for the U.S. government. His son, Takeo Hirai, was a watercolor artist who lived in New York before World War II. Drawing is a common practice in my family, as I learned from my grandfather who learned from his father before him. I believe that I carry on Takeo’s legacy by being an artist.
How do you start working on a new piece? Do you use a sketch or is it completely spontaneous?
I sketch every day, and I combine realistic imagery with my imaginary world. Before starting a new work, I spend time drawing the same piece multiple times. For example, I completed ‘At the Bar’ after drawing its sketch four or five times. I always carry my notebook and my fountain pen wherever I go, like it’s my mission, for art.
How have the great and historic print- and paper-making traditions of your native Japan influenced you? (Hokusai and Hiroshige, Ukiyo-e…)
Artmaking is a tradition in my family, so we often visited museums and exhibitions with the opportunity to discuss art from a critical perspective. With my mother’s favorite eras are Edo, Meiji, and Taisho; she instilled the importance of Japanese traditional culture in me. I grew up surrounded by art in my parents’ home, so I hope that my artwork will be displayed in someone else’s favorite place.
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You can learn more about Satoco Yamamoto’s process on her Artist Profile and view more of her works on her ARTmine Page. Her artworks were on view at the gallery, part of Life is But a Dream group exhibition.